Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Aaron Reynolds

chicks-n-salsaGet to know Aaron…

Aaron Reynolds is a New York Times Bestselling Author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Here Comes Destructosaurus!, Carnivores, Chicks and Salsa, and the Caldecott Honor winning Creepy Carrots! He frequently visits schools and his highly participatory presentations are a blast for kids and teachers alike. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife, two kids, four cats, and between three and ten fish, depending on the day. For more info, visit his website.

Quirky Questions 

What is the worst movie you’ve ever seen? 

So hard to answer…there are so many bad movies out there. I’ll narrow it down to “disappointingly bad” movies…movies for which I had high hopes and they turned out to stink. A three-way tie between The Last Airbender, Jurrasic Park 3, and Sharknado. 

Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?

New Zealand. I got the chance to spend five weeks traveling all over both islands, and it’s every bit as breathtaking as The Lord of the Rings depicts it to be. Only better. 

How do you feel about small talk? Love or hate?

I really hate small talk, but have learned to get pretty good at it, due to the amount I time I spend traveling and hanging out with people I don’t know. The key is to ask lots of questions about the other person. 

What celebrity—past or present—would you trust the least with a spare key to your house? 

Joe Pesci. Right? Or Steve Buscemi. Again, for obviously reasons. 

What do you get most enthusiastic about?

In this order:

1. My wife

2. My kids

3. Food

4. Books

5. Video games 

What would complete your outfit right now?

A margarita. Definitely. 

52cc21bb-aab4-49be-a299-99b9563b6c91_zps69f255c5Writing Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

Just keep writing through the crap. BIC…butt in chair. Even if the writing isn’t coming, even if there’s nothing but garbage coming out. The good stuff will show up eventually. 

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

In the shower or by myself in the car. I think it’s something about the inability to multi-task combined with being somewhere that nobody can get to you that frees up the mind and lets the ideas flow. 

If you were no longer able to write, how else would you express your creativity?

I would become a chef. I love cooking and consider it a great form of creativity in my life. I actually went to culinary school years ago when I thought that might be a career path for me, and just loved the fun of it, regardless of whether I actually would end up becoming a chef. I could do that again and be quite happy. 

How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?

I’m pretty ruthless about taking downtime and time to just be with my family. Having said that, I think that creativity pervades all of life and I don’t try to turn the creativity off ever. But the tasks that come with it…actively brainstorming, writing, speaking at schools, doing blog interviews…I can turn off the switch and leave those aside when it’s time to unplug, knowing that they’ll still be there waiting for me to dive back into when it’s time to work again. 

Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?

Well, when Creepy Carrots won the Caldecott Honor Medal, that was incredibly satisfying, especially knowing that I never in a million years saw it coming. I NEVER would had dreamed that one of my books would carry that little silver medal on the cover. So that was a good day. 

But I think the best pride or satisfaction comes from the writing itself. Coming up with an especially good idea, figuring out a story twist, making myself crack up as I write and knowing that a kid is going to love what I just wrote…these are the true satisfactions of this writing life and the reason I do it in the first place. I really have fun at what I do. If it wins awards, if reviewers like it, if it hits some bestseller list…well, that’s all gravy.

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Author Interview with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

naked!-9781442467385_hrGet to know Debbie…

Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. Recent illustration projects include NAKED! by Michael Ian Black and Judy Blume classics reissued in chapter book and middle grade format (Simon & Schuster Children’s). For Debbie’s other current and upcoming book projects with Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Random House, visit her website. Also, be sure to check out her blog for writers & illustrators and her Twitter page.

Quirky Questions

If you were going to spend a year in complete solitude and you could only bring one book, one CD, and one movie, what would they be?

One book: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

One CD: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles

One movie: The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King

If you could have a remote control for anything, what would you choose? 

A time machine.

Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be? 

Grumpy, because he’s the most interesting Dwarf.

What one thing annoys you most at a restaurant? 

Invisible waitstaff.

If you were any animal, what would you be? 

A squirrel, because they will eventually take over the world.

If you could change one thing about airlines to make your flight more enjoyable, what would it be?

Make the airport security process less cattle-like.

How would a dictionary define your writing process?

Angsty.

What irritates you the most in a social situation?

Having to small-talk with people with whom I’ve nothing in common and will likely never meet again.

What do Martians do for fun on Mars?

Eat Mars bars.

What word describes the outfit you’re wearing right now?

Verdant.

If you opened the freezer right now, what would you love to find?

A secret doorway into an alternate dimension full of ice cream and no squirrels.

Debbie-BeckettGladney-700x467Writing Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When a deadline looms.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

Yes, when I kept getting book contracts for illustration, not writing.

I love illustrating children’s books and will never give that up, but I also want to write them as well. And in Summer 2015, I’m getting my wish! My first picture book that I’ve written as well as illustrated, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, comes out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Very excited!

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

I think creative people tend to take more time for solitude.

Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

Never. However, I don’t share everything publicly.

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing? 

I take walks without listening to music or audiobooks, and without any errands along the way. I find that creating a quiet mental space inevitably breeds creativity.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Read as much as possible.

Write every day.

Set regular, specific and achievable goals.

How would you define creativity? 

Hmm, tough question. Others may differ, but here’s my attempt at a definition: Creativity is the ability to come up with new ideas and then act on them. I think that if you come up with lots of new ideas but don’t act on them, then that’s more of a case of being imaginative than creative.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?

I actually did choose a more stable and secure job in the beginning: a programmer/analyst for the head office of a bank. My boyfriend (who is now my husband) convinced me to quit when he saw how unhappy I was, and said he’d support me so I could pursue my creative dreams. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career? 

Rejections. Many, many rejections. 

What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?

In the beginning, my main challenge was getting children’s book publishers to notice me.

Now that I’m getting book contracts and (yay) making a living at writing and illustrating, my biggest challenge is making time to play. By “play,” I mean doing regular writing and illustrating for the fun of it. It’s the only way I’m going to keep growing as an artist, by experimenting and trying new things.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Losing members of my family unexpectedly (see this link) has made me more aware of how I choose to live my life, and this has definitely affected how I work as well. I love a quote by Rose Tremain so much that I have a big decal across the ceiling in my office: “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”

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Author Interview with Steven Barr

coverGet to know Steve…

Steve Barr is the ruggedly handsome, multi-talented Renaissance man who has written and illustrated 11 titles in the “1-2-3 Draw” series from Peel Productions.  Impact Books recently released his new creations, “Draw Crazy Creatures” and “Draw Awesome Animals”.

His unbelievably witty, funny and entertaining cartoons have appeared in a multitude of publications, including a huge number of the “Complete Idiot’s Guides” and “Chicken Soup for the Soul”.  He also has a thriving shop on Zazzle, where he sells t-shirts, mugs and other merchandise he’s created. 

He frequently visits schools and libraries throughout the year, where his talks are always greeted with thunderous applause and rousing standing ovations.

In spite of all of this, he remains extremely humble and never likes to brag about his accomplishments.  (Oh boy – We’re REALLY starting to regret asking him to write his own bio now, aren’t we?) For more info, visit his website and Facebook.

Quirky Questions 

Would you mind sharing an embarrassing moment?

No problem. Any time anyone wants to do something embarrassing around me, I’d be more than happy to share that moment with them!   

What world-changing event would you like to take credit for? 

Well, I’d love to take credit for winning the American Revolutionary War.  But I can’t.  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even alive when it happened. 

Where is the worst place to be stuck waiting? 

I hate to be stuck anywhere, whether I’m waiting for it or not. 

If you were to start a new trend and be famous for it, what would it be? 

Living in my pajamas.  I’d wear them everywhere, all day and all night.  But I guess I should probably buy a pair first and see what they’re like.  I hear they’re fabulous, but I don’t actually own any.  I’d hate to start a trend that even I don’t  appreciate. 

What great idea did you come up with, but never followed through on? 

I’m pretty sure I was the first person to come up with the inspiration to build a computer that would fit on the top of a desk.  But once I designed it, I realized we were going to need a really, really big desk.  So I abandoned the idea.  My only regret is mentioning it to Bill Gates at a party once.  And the rest, as they say, is history! 

What is the worst movie you’ve ever seen? 

It was a personal hygiene film I saw in high school.  I’ve never looked at foot fungus the same way since. 

What odd habit or quirk do you have? 

I love to eat breakfast for dinner.  Late night pancakes draped with real Vermont syrup are awesome.  Absolutely awesome.  But then, I’ve always been a radical rule breaker, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.  However, I would absolutely NEVER eat dinner for breakfast.  That would be just plain crazy. 

If there was a national holiday in your honor, what would that day be like? 

We would all take naps.  Long, wondrous naps.  Everybody.  Wherever you are.  At work, at home or out playing somewhere.  Everyone would just stop whatever they were doing at two in the afternoon and sleep for at least 3 hours.  It would probably be the most popular holiday ever. 

Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been? 

Right where I live.  The mountains of Western North Carolina.  Whenever I go outside, I feel like I’m walking through a living postcard.  

How do you feel about small talk? Love or hate? 

I absolutely LOVE small talk.  I am constantly striking up conversations with complete strangers.  But I have a confession to make.  I am listening intently for ideas.  Odd word combinations intrigue me.  I get some of my best cartoon ideas from something someone else says.  A phrase or sentence will just strike me as funny, and my brain will begin turning it into a comic. 

My mother has written proof of my fascination with conversation.  Every marking period throughout my elementary school years, I would come home with a report card that said, “Steven speaks to the other children too much.”  So, even as a child…I loved small talk so much I had it documented by the authorities! 

What celebrity—past or present—would you trust the least with a spare key to your house? 

Charlie Sheen.  I don’t think I need to elaborate. 

What is the oldest thing you own? Where did you get it? 

My first thought was to say my 1999 Toyota Tacoma, which has over 300,000 miles on it.  But in reality, I have some extremely old things.  In my spare time, I’m a rockhound.  I collect minerals and gems.  The experts say that they formed millions of years ago, but I don’t know that for sure, since I wasn’t there at the time. 

What do you consider your worst feature? 

Sometimes my knees creak.  Which made it really difficult for me to finish my Ninja training.  It’s not easy to sneak up on somebody in the dark when your knees sound like crickets on steroids.

Would you ever consider living with a tribe deep in the Amazon? Why or why not? 

Sure.  Why not?  I always enjoy meeting new people.  And I hear the rent is cheap. 

If you could be a spokesperson for any product, what would it be? 

Nike.  Because their slogan is really easy to remember, so I probably wouldn’t mess it up.  And I could really use a new pair of shoes. 

If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be? 

My life probably doesn’t need a soundtrack.  It already has a really loud laugh track. 

What do you get most enthusiastic about? 

Breathing.  Every time I wake up and I’m still doing it, I’m thrilled.  Each new day is a gift, and if I’m breathing I have the opportunity to make the most of it. 

If you went to a psychiatrist, what would he/she say you suffer from? 

They’d probably say I suffer from an inability to pay their fees. 

What would complete your outfit right now? 

Shoes and a shirt would probably do it. 

What makes you uncomfortable? 

People trying to make me wear shoes and a shirt. 

If you were a farmer, what would be your most abundant crop? 

If I was a farmer I doubt I’d have any sort of crop, let alone an abundant one.  I am horrible about keeping houseplants alive, so I don’t think I could grow anything on a larger scale.  If I was ever taken to court for my mistreatment of plants, the judge would probably issue a permanent injunction banning me from ever owning another one again.

unnamedWriting Questions

When did your writing career take off?

Quite a few years ago, I was in a bookstore glancing through a variety of “how to draw books” that were on the shelves.  I began to realize that many of them were simply too complicated for younger readers and absolute beginners, people who just wanted to have fun drawing.  It also struck me many of the directions for what is supposed to be a fairly simple form of art seemed to have just too many rules.

I decided that I wanted to do books that would be very easy to follow, and went home to begin working on them.  Even before I had enough material together to do a formal submission, I began a worldwide search for a publisher on the Internet.

Over the next few months, whenever I had spare time, I continued my search….with no results.  Then, one night, I was wading through an extensive on-line listing of publishers when I suddenly came across the Peel Productions website.  They specialized in “How to Draw” books.  And their page even said they were looking for books that would teach young children how to create their own cartoons!

I immediately fired off an e-mail to them, and heard back from them very quickly.  In an extremely bizarre twist of fate, it turned out that their offices were located in the same rural town as the one I live in!  They were right down the road from me!  After two days of correspondence, the publisher was sitting at my kitchen table and we signed a deal for the first three books in my “1-2-3 Draw Cartoons” series.

So it just goes to show that miracles can happen.  I searched all over the world for a publisher, and found out the people I was looking for were my “neighbors”!

How do you deal with creativity blocks? 

Although that rarely happens to me anymore, when I do get a mental block I simply walk away from everything I am working on.  I go somewhere else.  I do something that I enjoy.  I let my mind roam, but I try to force myself not to think about the project I’m in the middle of.  The minute I try not to concentrate on the task at hand, the ideas almost always begin flying into my brain.  I guess that’s just the rebel in me.  If I tell myself not to do something, I end up doing it just to prove I was wrong. 

Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book? 

Yes.  Since I’m usually doing both the illustrations and the writing, it’s fairly easy for me to visualize what I want the final product to look like.  But that doesn’t mean it actually turns out that way.  Everything evolves during the process.  My ideas change.  New inspiration hits.  And then my editor gets her hands on it. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned in this entire process is to ALWAYS give very intense consideration to any input from my editor.  A lot of writers and illustrators react harshly to even the most constructive criticism, but I’ve always seen editors as my partners.  They want to make the final product as good as I want to make it.  A second pair of eyes is never a bad thing.  And two brains are always better than one. 

Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you? 

It was a combination of both.  I was very young when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.  I chose to write and draw.  But I didn’t really have any other option.  It was just who I was, and who I still am to this day. 

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative? 

I love locking myself away in my studio for hours on end.  With my favorite music cranked up, surrounded by art supplies and my computer nearby, I’m ready to work!  And, when you’re doing something you truly enjoy, it’s not really work, is it?  Working at home, wearing comfortable clothing and pouring another cup of coffee any time I want to is completely conducive to creativity. 

There is, however, one other place where I find I get tons of ideas.  When I’m out driving, I don’t turn the radio on.  With no distractions, my mind is free to just roam.  Ideas tend to pop into my head out of nowhere in those moments, and if I was listening to music I would probably be too distracted to daydream like I need to.  When I’m in my studio listening to music, I tend to select something with no lyrics.  That way my brain can wander and resist the temptation to sing along with the latest hits. 

Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit? 

I’m just plain stubborn.  Always have been, always will be. 

I started my career at a VERY young age, which I will touch on later in this interview.  One of the biggest influences on me, a person who helped guide me along my path, was my 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Verlander.  When I started selling my work as a child, I began to think that I didn’t need to study in school any more.  I mean, for goodness sake, I was just going to make a ton of money drawing funny pictures…so why study? 

She somehow figured out what was going on with me and sat me down for a talk.  She pointed out that EVERY class I took, everything I studied, would be important later.  My clients would be editors.  Those were people who had studied English for extended periods of time.  They would not want to have to waste their time fixing all of my mistakes, so I’d need to buckle down and learn my grammar, punctuation and spelling.  I’d need to know math, because I’d have to calculate my billing and I’d have to measure proportions so my art would fit a page properly. 

She went on and on about it.  And I realized that she was a very smart cookie!  She was right.  I needed to work as hard as I could in school. 

I dedicated one of my first books to her, and we still correspond from time to time.  She had an enormous impact on me.  And I will always be grateful to her. 

If you were no longer able to write, how else would you express your creativity? 

Wow.  That’s a tough question.  I guess I would wait for winter, then go outside and make snow angels.  If you do them just right, snow angels can be very creative. 

What has been your greatest sacrifice that has enabled you to become the author you are today?

I walked away from a job with great pay and excellent health benefits to concentrate on creating my books.  It has been a struggle at times, but it was absolutely worth it.  I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, but I was in a situation where doing that became possible. 

What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others? 

The late, great cartoonist Gil Fox once gave me a book about his life and his work.  Inside the front cover, he scrawled a message to me.  It simply said, “Persist.  Over and over and over…” 

If you knew that you had only one last opportunity to express yourself creatively, what message would you want to convey to others? 

My final message would probably fit on a bumper sticker.  Or a gravestone.  It would most likely be something like “Live Every Moment to the Fullest, Because You Never Get Them Back.”  Or, “Carpe Diem”.  Life is short.  Do what you love.  And love what you do. 

unnamedWhen did you realize that you had a gift for writing? 

The first time I came home with an A+ on my second grade English homework. 

How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors? 

That’s a never-ending battle for everyone in the writing and cartooning business.  Any unexpected interruption can greatly impede my thought process.  When I’m “in the zone” and really turning out the work, I need to be completely alone and closed off from the world.  It can sometimes take hours to get to that place, and if I’m snapped out of it suddenly…it can take hours to get back into that frame of mind. 

I balance my self-imposed exile by going out to dinner with friends, hiking in the mountains, searching for gems and minerals in remote mountain areas and camping whenever possible.  I take breaks during the writing process even when I’m working under tight deadlines, but as soon as I wrap up a project I head out the door for at least a few days and don’t look back! 

What is your typical day like? 

My morning commute is rather unique.  It involves rolling out of bed, strolling into the kitchen, brewing a pot of coffee and catching up on e-mails and correspondence.  Then I head into the next room, where my studio is hidden away in the back of my cabin.  Most days, I start with a morning warmup sketch, just doodling for a little bit to see what comes out of the tip of my pencil.  When I’ve got a design I like, I’ll finish it while I daydream about what I’ll write to go along with it. 

When I’ve got a book contract, the days become much more intense.  I’ve been known to pull quite a few “all-nighters” in my life.  I stay glued to the drawing table and the computer for hours on end, reworking and perfecting things until I am happy with them.  I like to get as much of the book done ahead of deadline as I can.  That gives me breathing room later on, and I can add nice little touches that I might not have thought of at first. 

How much of your own life is reflected in your work? 

Well, I write and illustrate drawing instruction books.  So my work and style are greatly reflected in my books.  But I do dream of authoring a book about my childhood one day.  As a kid, I was a living cartoon character and so was everyone else around me.  My life was hilarious!  I’d love to do a humorous autobiography complete with cartoons that would come straight out of my own experiences.  It would make a great movie, too.  But I doubt anybody would believe even half of it. 

Do you have family members who like to write too? 

Yes.  My younger sister writes wonderful poetry.  My mother is a talented artist.  My younger brother does wonderful wood carvings.  And my older brother struggles to draw stick figures.  But he could always kick my butt in sports.  And he still can. 

What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you write today? 

My childhood was idyllic in many ways.  And absolutely crazy in others.  But my home was a safe place where creativity was fostered and nurtured.  When I began writing and drawing cartoons at an early age, my parents made sure I always had plenty of pencils, papers and pens.  They encouraged me to chase my dreams.  I think they were even more amazed than I was when I sold my first cartoon to a magazine while I was still in the seventh grade.  Then I sold another one for even more money that year!  I was off and running and  I haven’t stopped since! 

My upbringing taught me that when you’re working, you never look at the clock.  You just do the task at hand.  Time becomes irrelevant.  The finished product and the satisfaction of a job well done is payment enough.  If it puts food on your table or pays the electric bill, then you did good!  My father was an extremely hard-working man, and all of his children got a very strong work ethic from him.  My mother stayed at home most of the time, and was like a cheerleading squad for all of her kids.  Mom and Dad both listened to their children when they expressed their dreams, and did their best to provide us with the tools we needed to accomplish our goals. 

Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction? 

I’m proud of all of my books for various reasons.  They all serve different purposes in their own way.  But I think I like “Draw Crazy Creatures” and “Draw Awesome Animals” the best, because I’d like to think I learned from experience.  That said, my “1-2-3 Draw” line was aimed at very young children or absolute beginners, so I tried to keep it as simple and easy to follow as possible.  With the newer books, I was aiming at a slightly more advanced level of reader. 

How do you think you differ from other creative people in your genre? 

I think the one thing that is different about my books is that I always repeat my “No Rules!” mantra over and over again.  One of the things that inspired me to begin writing art instruction books was that I read many of the ones by other authors, and they all seemed to have too many rules.  I don’t want anyone to try to learn how to draw just like me.  I wanted them to develop their own style.  If my books help them create a unique look that is truly their own, my job here on earth is done. 

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways? 

Yes.  I like to think that both my books and my cartoons have begun to flow more naturally.  Nothing is forced.  I’ve learned to be less critical of my own creations while still trying to make them the best that they can be.  When I was younger, I was highly critical of everything I did.  That was not necessarily a bad thing.  It helped me improve.  But it also slowed me down.  I reworked and reworked things for what seemed like an eternity.  Now, I just pound things out then let them sit for a little while.  I like to go back later and look at them with fresh eyes.  If I spot a problem, I throw myself into fixing it with wild abandon.  And a lot of the time, it’s just fine the way it is.  If you second-guess yourself too much, you’ll never get anything finished. 

When do you feel the most energized? 

There are two times that I feel totally energized.  One is just after my first cup of coffee in the morning.  And the other is late at night, when there are no distractions around.  Ideas just start popping into my head and I have to leap out of bed, jot them down and sometimes even begin working on them immediately.  It’s not unusual for me to glance out the window and realize that the sun is coming up again. 

Does your writing reflect your personality? 

I’d like to think so.  My art instruction books tend to be laid back and easy going.  I always like to stress that the art of cartooning has “NO RULES!”  Rules tend to cripple creativity, and that’s the last thing I’d want to do to my readers.  I stress individuality and experimentation, which is pretty much the way I’ve lived my life and approached my work.

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Author Interview with Bridget Heos

81MdJssDuPL._SL1500_Get to know Bridget… 

Bridget Heos is the author of Mustache Baby and more than 70 nonfiction books for kids. She has three books coming out in 2015: Mustache Baby Meets His Match; I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are; and It’s Getting Hot in Here: the Past Present and Future of Global Warming. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and their four children, who were all born with mustaches (good guy ones of course.) For more info, visit her website and Facebook

Quirky Questions 

If you were able to change your first name, what would you pick?

Probably a boyish girl name, like Johnnie or Frankie. I think those are cute names. In fact, even after having three boys, my husband and I named our first baby girl Sami. 

What one rule do you frequently disregard?

Serving size, alas. 

What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented?

A photo album/scrapbook generated by your Facebook account. 

Why would somebody choose not to date you?

I work too hard; I care too much; I cook too good of meals. (I’m reading this as a “What is your greatest weakness?” job interview question.) 

What is the most revolutionary TV show of all time?

I wish I knew my T.V. history better because I love T.V. and would like to be able to answer this. I would like to hear T.V. people argue about this. I’ll just say Lost because I love it so. 

What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of?

At least 42 people have survived falls of greater than 10,000 ft. 

When do you know someone is exceptionally smart?

Their mom usually tells you. 

What movie character freaks you out?

As a kid, the Wicked Witch of the West did. My aunt told me she was really the lady in a soup commercial that aired during the movie. In hindsight, I don’t think that was true, but it did help! 

What unhealthy habit will you never give up? 

I would have said coffee, but I recently gave it up. So who knows what unhealthy habit I’ll give up next! 

What one thing is unfortunately true?

The Earth really is getting warmer. 

What movie deserves a sequel?

Bridesmaids.

What expression or cliché do you find yourself saying a lot?

“Oh, yeah? Well, it takes one to know one!” Just kidding. I don’t think I have one, but a few I like that my dad says are: “What do you want, eggs in your beer?” “You’re smarter than you look, kid,” and “Cheer up, cheer up, the worst is yet to come.” 

51S9K+tQA1LWriting Questions

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity? If so, how have you dealt with this?

I haven’t really felt that way. I know that my writing isn’t as beautiful as a lot of people’s. When I taught creative writing in junior high, one of the girls had a beautiful writing style that made some of the other students want to throw the towel in. I played for them Kermit the Frog singing “The Rainbow Connection,” and Pavarotti singing “Ave Maria.” They had never heard of Pavarotti and kept calling Kermit the Frog “Hermit the Frog,” but I think they got the point that just because your voice isn’t as beautiful as someone else’s doesn’t mean that, if you have a song to sing, you shouldn’t sing it. That’s something I’ve always felt deep down.

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Spending time with my kids in a non-bossy way makes me think of story ideas. I don’t get ideas when I’m telling them to brush their teeth, but I do during quieter times like when we’re on a walk or at the zoo.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I knew at least by junior high that I wanted to be a writer. But for a long time, I couldn’t think of anything to write. So I did jobs like social work and waitressing. Then I realized that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to write. So I started writing for newspapers and magazines. Then books for kids. I have questioned the decision from a business perspective, but it’s not like I had a job as an accountant waiting in the wings. Now, writing is all there is for me, and I’m thankful for that. If I had the opportunity to run away from writing, maybe I would, but I wouldn’t be happy doing it.

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

I think we see art as work that takes time, and we see at least a faint roadmap for doing that work.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

I think being a mom taught me how to be a writer. It’s always scary at first. You’re responsible for a baby. That’s big! But then you keep busy feeding and cooking and cleaning and teaching and hugging and walking and talking and before you know it, the baby is raised, and you see that you can do something big by doing small things. 

How do you know when a book is finished?

When you’re finished writing it? Or when you’re at the end of the story? I’m finished writing a book when I can’t think of any other way to make it better (even with the help of my critique group, agent, and editor.) It may not be perfect, but time is up, little story! Time to fly! Flap flap! As for endings, I’m not real good at them. I usually need to rewrite them for my editor or agent. So I put something out there, knowing I can change it later. If I couldn’t think of a beginning, I would be more worried!

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

To quote Say Anything, “Go back!” Ha! Seriously, if you love it, it’s something you won’t be able to stop yourself from doing. Just like if you love someone, you suddenly have all the time in the world. If you don’t love it, don’t worry about it. Just do something else instead.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?

I don’t know. Maybe I don’t give off the stable vibe? But I actually am very stable. I’m on the PTA! I will say I don’t mind not having stability. My sons have mentioned wanting to do things like sports reporting or comedy, and I tell them that’s good. But just be sure that you are okay with risk. Because in these types of jobs, you may work really hard and do everything right, but it still might not work out, and you have to be okay with that.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Ellen Raskin. I think The Westing Game is the perfect book.

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

Well, I said I don’t mind not having stability, but it’s hard sometimes.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Jean Reagan

how-to-babysit-a-grandmaGet to know Jean…

Jean Reagan is the author of the New York Times Bestselling and Indie Bestselling picture books, HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA and HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDMA. Jean’s first picture book, ALWAYS MY BROTHER (Tilbury House, 2009), was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.  GRANDPA received the Crystal Kite Award and the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Book Award and was a finalist for the Beehive Book Award.  In 2013, Jean won the Highlights Magazine Fiction Contest. 

Jean is thrilled a Braille version of GRANDPA is available in each state’s Library for the Blind.  It’s formatted so blind and sighted people can read the book together.        

Two more books in the HOW-TO series are in production. HOW TO SURPRISE A DAD will be published spring, 2015. One yet-to-be-revealed title will be published fall, 2015.      

Jean was born in Alabama, raised in Japan, and now lives in Salt Lake City, UT.  Each summer she and her husband serve as a wilderness volunteers in Grand Teton National Park in WY, living without running water or electricity.  To learn more about Jean, her books, GRANDPA in Braille, or her summer “gig”, visit her website. 

Quirky Questions

What do you never leave home without? 

Bear spray. Of course, that’s only in the summer when I’m a wilderness volunteer in a National Park. I even take bear spray with me to the outhouse!  When I take a nightly dip in the lake, I leave the spray at the water’s edge, just in case.  Fortunately I’ve never had to use my spray, even though I see bears all the time.  Once my husband sprayed a bear, but that’s another story. 

The rest of the year I never leave home without my cellphone.  Not so exciting, eh? 

If every activity in life were an Olympic sport, what would you win the gold in? 

Worrying. I’m an Olympic-caliber worrywart. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become less of a worrier, so I really should say I would have taken gold in the Junior Olympics. Tapping into my childhood worries helps when I write for kids, I hope.   

If you could pass along a piece of wisdom to future generations, what would it be? 

Unplug. Go for a walk or lie in the grass. Connect with nature, at nature’s pace.  These days so often connecting with nature means accumulating bragging rights: swim with dolphins, pet a sting ray, bag a peak, etc. Slow down and discover everyday miracles in nature. 

If you were looking at an abstract piece of art, what would your general reaction be? 

WTF?  By the way, the “F” stands for “Freak.”  What word were you thinking? 

What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented? 

Baby wigs. I love bald-headed babies (and toddlers), but some folks seem embarrassed about their bald-headed babies.  Think of the possibilities!  When you visit a wealthy aunt with red curly hair, your baby could sport a red, curly-haired wig.   

What is the weirdest thing about your relatives? 

Weird?!  My relatives aren’t weird.  But they do read all my interviews.  Heh, heh. (Email me privately if you want to hear more.) 

What one thing have you kept over the years for no good reason? 

Glasses with old prescriptions. I would have to wear two pairs together to add up to my current prescription. That would be attractive, wouldn’t it? 

When do you know someone is exceptionally smart? 

When someone thinks outside the box and is simultaneously insightful, open-hearted, and humorous. I cherish these qualities, particularly when they come from the most unexpected corners of our humanity.   

What one thing is unfortunately true? 

Our son, John, died in 2005. My first book, ALWAYS MY BROTHER, is told from the perspective of the surviving sister.  The book doesn’t exactly mirror our own family’s story, but it does tap into the emotions and experiences of our loss. I make sure every book I write (even my happy, silly books) has a bit of John in them. It’s a gift to me and my family.  And it celebrates his life for others to enjoy. 

cover-e1351814747904Writing Questions

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

Over three hundred rejections! Even my New York Times bestselling HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA had twenty-nine rejections. It’s the nature of this career. With each rejection I try to improve something in the manuscript. Of course, sometimes all I manage to do is whine and complain and eat chocolate.   

How did you pick your writing genre?

When my kids were little, I found myself fussing at them more than I care to admit. But when we sat down on the couch with a stack of picture books, we entered a magical world together. All the “shoulds” melted away, and “time” became suspended. That is when I first considered writing picture books. To think an author (and illustrator) could create such magical, connecting moments for families seemed like such a joyous, noble calling.  Wow!  Of course, I learned picture books are much more difficult to write than I initially thought. But at least they’re less bulky than longer genres.  

How do you know when a book is finished?

Truth be told, I keep tweaking my books even after they’re published. When I do read-alouds, I still find myself changing or adding words. If I’m reading with someone who’s just learning to read I stick to the actual words! I struggled to learn how to read as a kid, so I’m super empathetic towards early readers. 

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

About ten years ago, early in my dream of becoming published, I ranted while opening one form rejection after another, all starting with, “Dear Author.” When I finally paused, my son said, “But Mom, they’re calling you ‘author.’”  After he died, his words echoed in my heart. How could I stop writing?

And then after I’d suffered many, many rejections for ALWAYS MY BROTHER, a story about sibling loss, I sought feedback from a young woman who’d lost her only sister at age nine. She read my manuscript and said, “This was me.” I knew then that I’d created an authentic story, that as a book, could be a helpful, healing resource. I was determined to persevere until it was published.  

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

This may sound trite, but I think all people are creative.  Some folks may not be artists of any sort because of their inclination or the options available in their lives. But every person navigates through their world creatively.

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing? 

When I’m flummoxed by a writing problem, I either go for a walk alone or I take a bath. Then, often the muse offers up a solution.  It’s so exhilarating when a phrase or scene pops into my head, seemingly out of nowhere. 

I’m a very social person, so when I’m stuck I also seek ideas from others. Sometimes I “steal” those ideas directly, or more often they trigger new ideas of my own.   

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Join and actively participate in the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Join or start a critique group. There is ABSOLUTELY no way I would have become a published author without my critique group.  In fact, my critique buddies should be listed as co-authors on all my books. That’s the truth!

Enter writing contests and sign up for manuscript critiques at conferences.  This way you’ll receive invaluable feedback on your writing before you land your first contract. 

Celebrate every little step you take towards fulfilling your goal. I mean every little baby step. Also help others around you celebrate their baby steps.

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Deborah Diesen

unnamedGet to know Deborah…

Deborah Diesen is the author of several children’s picture books, including the brand new The Pout-Pout Fish Goes To School, illustrated by Dan Hanna. The Pout-Pout Fish, the first book in the Pout-Pout Fish series, was published in 2008 and spent two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list for children’s picture books. A sequel, The Pout-Pout Fish In The Big-Big Dark, came out in 2010Debbie is also the author of a new series of mini-adventures for The Pout-Pout Fish.  The mini-adventures are short board book stories created especially for babies and young toddlers.  The first of these, Smile, Pout-Pout Fish, was released in January, and will be followed by Sweet Dreams, Pout-Pout Fish next year.  Debbie’s other children’s books are a rhyming story called The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade (illustrated by Tracy Dockray) and a non-rhyming story called Picture Day Perfection (illustrated by Dan Santat). Previously a bookseller and a reference librarian, she now works at a small nonprofit organization.  She and her family live in Grand Ledge, MI.  For more info, visit her website and blog

Quirky Questions 

If you were a prescription drug, what would be your main side effect?

Unfortunately for the patient’s family:  puns. 

What company advertisements could you model for?

A “Clean Desk” service company.  I’d be the “Before” picture. 

If you ran a funeral home, what would your company slogan be?

“Live it up!  We’re not ready for you yet.”

What current product do you think will baffle people in 100 years?

Standardized tests. 

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

Those cute little shampoo and conditioner bottles!  I also like the key cards.  When I was growing up, hotel rooms still had actual keys, so key cards seem pretty High-Tech to me.   (Yeah, I’m easily amused.) 

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

Pour my morning coffee!  Usually into the mug! 

If you could have your mailbox shaped like an object, what would it be?

Part of me wants to say a fish (and I’ll bet you can imagine what kind of fish!), but I think my kids might prefer a TARDIS mailbox. 

What topic would you like to know more about?

I have a secret desire (well, I guess now it’s a not-so-secret desire) to be a Taiko drummer.  So I’d love to know more about Taiko drumming. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you change about your high school experience?

I’d worry less about feathering my bangs; I’d study less; and I’d get to know more of my classmates. 

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

That I haven’t fainted yet. (I’m pretty shy.) 

unnamed (1)Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

Mostly by accident.  When my kids were young, they loved to be read to, and so I found myself thoroughly immersed in children’s literature.  All that exposure to picture books reignited my lifelong but at-that-time dormant interest in writing.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My kids, certainly!  Many of my ideas grow out of funny things they’ve done or said.  I’m also inspired, in all things, by the encouragement of my parents.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

How do you know when a book is finished?

I never really know, but I rely on my gut feeling (deep down, I usually know if something needs more work) and, more importantly, on my critique group and their feedback.  My fellow writers never steer me wrong!

What are the biggest challenges you have had in the realm of your art?

Probably the same as anyone else in a creative field:  periodic bouts of insecurity and self-doubt.  They’re part of the topography of creativity.  That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to meet and travel with other creatives:  it’s easier to navigate the terrain with help.

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

I think of creativity as a commitment to noticing.  Paying attention to what you see, feel, and hear allows you to experience and express yourself in a unique and integrative way.  We all have the capacity for creativity.  It’s part of human nature.  We’re not fully ourselves until we find some way to tap into it.

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity? If so, how have you dealt with this?

Pesky expectations, they sure do get in the way!  It’s impossible not to let expectations form in your mind, unbidden.  The key is not to let them take over.  I’ve found it’s better if I acknowledge them to myself, instead of pretending I don’t have them.  After that, they shrink away a bit, and it’s easier to be open to whatever actually happens.  Then comes the best stuff – the unexpected!

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

A walk, especially a walk in the woods, does wonders.  A bit of chocolate never hurts, either.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Write for yourself, first and foremost; and write the things that absorb you fully.  If you do that, with a commitment to and a belief in what you are doing, ultimately you will discover your true voice and your best writing.  So stand tall creatively and tell your stories!  We all need them.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Nancy Loewen

unnamedGet to know Nancy…

Nancy Loewen has published nearly 120 books for kids. She’s received awards from the American Library Association, the Association of Educational Publishers, New York Public Library, Bank Street Children’s Book Committee, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Two of her books have been finalists for Minnesota Book Awards: THE LAST Day OF KINDERGARTEN (2012) and FOUR TO THE POLE (2002; co-written with polar explorer Ann Bancroft). A recent picture book, BABY WANTS MAMA, was named an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Best Book. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, St. Paul. Nancy was born in Mountain Lake, a small town in southern Minnesota. She currently lives in the Twin Cities. Besides reading, her favorite things to do are walking her dog and collecting weird thing from thrift stores. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What is the weirdest thing about your relatives? 

I come from a long line of farmers on both sides of my family. That doesn’t sound so weird—until you stop to consider that throughout my entire genealogy, no one has been anything but a farmer. And yet I struggle to keep my houseplants alive. 

What one thing have you kept over the years for no good reason? 

In college I was on the staff of the literary magazine, called Muse. When I graduated I forgot to turn in my key. It’s been on my main key ring ever since. I like being able to say, “I have a key to the Muse office.” 

If you were the boss at your job, what incentive or perk would you offer your employees? 

At a certain time every day, all employees could rest their heads on their desks, just like in elementary school, and listen to a great audio book over the intercom. It would be a combination of naptime and book club! Everyone would get to rest their eyes and they would all have something in common to talk about. 

What unhealthy habit will you never give up? 

I don’t think I could get through the day without eating something sweet. Most days, it’s many somethings sweet. 

Also, cheese. 

What one thing is unfortunately true? 

Most of the time, most people don’t consider the big picture. They don’t ask as many questions as they should. 

What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented? 

A dog food dispenser that shoots out one piece of kibble at a time, at random intervals. I’m the owner of a beagle who is always on the lookout for food. A device like this would occupy her for hours! 

What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of? 

In our bodies, bacteria cells outnumber human cells ten to one. Hurrray for symbiosis! 

What expression or cliché do you find yourself saying a lot? 

“The big picture” (I just said this a few questions ago, didn’t I?)  and “Here’s the deal.” 

What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish could make a comeback today? 

It used to be easier to get to know our children’s friends and their friends’ parents. My kids became teenagers right when everyone was getting smart phones. Parents stopped coming to the door. They’d just text their kid when they were parked outside the house. 

If every activity in life were an Olympic sport, what would you win the gold in? 

Running around the house, trying to find my reading glasses. No matter how many pairs I own, they are never around when I need them. 

If you were able to change your first name, what would you pick? 

One of my farming forebears was named Trincke. I love that name. Another woman’s name that appears often in my family tree is Helena. That’s my daughter’s name. (Side note: I recently wrote a title for Picture Window Books about Helen of Troy. Of course I could never just type “Helen.” I added the “a” every. single. time.) 

What do you never leave home without? 

Kleenex. My dad has an expression in Low German and I wish I could remember it, but it goes something like, “then runs my nose away again.” That’s me. 

9781404857049_500X500Writing Questions

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

I’ve had a lot of family responsibilities and usually I’ve had to fit my work in around other tasks, instead of making it a priority. I’m still working on taking myself seriously as a writer. Now that my kids are almost grown, that part is getting easier.

How did you pick your writing genre?

My first writing-related job out of college was with a children’s book publisher. But it wasn’t until I had my own kids that I developed a deeper understanding of children’s books. And I’m still learning. It’s the old saying, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Two of my published books were directly inspired by my own kids: Baby Wants Mama (my son, Louis) and The Last Day of Kindergarten (my daughter, Helena). And I have other stories in various stages that were inspired by them as well. Mostly I take inspiration from little moments, not big ones–snippets of conversation, obscure news items, funny typos, and so on.

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I can read it through from start to finish without noticing anything that I want to change. It’s kind of like running a comb through your hair and not getting stuck on any tangles.

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

I think creative people are better able to see individual elements that make up the world. It’s like a puzzle, and they can pick and choose, move things around. People who aren’t creative see the world as being more cohesive and static.

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Not every piece is going to soar. Do your best and keep moving forward.

Also, you are bound to face many frustrations about things you have no control over: illustrations, editorial input, schedules, reviews, marketing, etc. The act of writing is very different from the act of publishing. Separate them in your mind, if you can. They are like quarreling kids—best to keep them apart.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?

Because there is something magical about writing. The best moments are when I’m not aware I’m writing at all, and then I look down and read my own words and have no memory of having written them. It’s like the words have been dropped onto the page by someone else. It’s not always like that, of course, but those are the most satisfying moments that keep me coming back for more.

I also believe that writing for kids—just like teaching them or caring for them—is important work. In ways large and small, we are influencing who these children will become.

A couple of years ago, I helped my parents move off the farm to a house in town. Most everything I’d owned as a child was there for the taking, including my books. Even though I hadn’t laid eyes on those books for more than 40 years, they were so familiar. I’d turn page after page and say, “I remember that! I remember that!” The books we read as kids, especially the ones we read over and over, become a part of us. We might not be aware of it, but those books are in our minds to stay.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Wendi Silvano

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Get to know Wendi… 

Wendi Silvano is the award-winning author of six picture books (going on 7), more than a dozen emergent and early readers, numerous stories, articles and poems in prominent children’s magazines and a variety of educational materials. Two of her picture books (Turkey Trouble and Just One More) won the Children’s Choice Award, and Turkey Claus was named one of the “Ten Best Picture Books of 2012” by YABC. She has won the IRA’s Paul A. Witty Short Story Award, the EdPress Award for Excellence in Children’s Magazine Fiction, The Highlights Humorous Fiction Contest, the Children’s Writer Early Reader Contest, among other honors. She taught preschool and elementary school for 11 years, and has now been writing for more than 20 years. She is the mother five and has owned too many pets over the years to count. She loves to eat banana cream pie or just about anything chocolate! In her 11 ½ minutes of spare time per day she likes to read, hike or play the piano. She was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and has lived in Oregon, Peru and now Grand Junction, Colorado, where she writes from her home. Her newest picture book, Turkey Trick or Treat, will be out in 2015. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What aspect of the “good old days” do you wish could make a comeback today? 

Drive-in movies. I loved making a bed in the back of my parents’ station wagon and getting to go to the movies in pajamas, squish on the “bed” with my brothers and sisters, watch the movie, eat the snacks and then fall asleep. Movie going now days just doesn’t create the same memories! 

If you were the boss at your job, what incentive or perk would you offer your employees? 

If I were the boss at a company I would provide “reading breaks” for everyone at least once a day, maybe twice. Then of course I would have to provide a library on site, but I could fill it with children’s books!

If you could buy one object to complete your home, what would it be? 

One thing I would love to have is a treehouse. I think all kids need a treehouse. Unfortunately, none of the trees in my yard are big enough to hold one yet, and my kids are almost grown!  (Maybe my grandkids one day….)

When do you know someone is exceptionally smart? 

When they listen more than they talk. 

What unhealthy habit will you never give up? 

I don’t think I will every give up eating cake. Too yummy!

What one thing is unfortunately true? 

It is ultimately unfortunate that chocolate is fattening! 

If every activity in life were an Olympic sport, what would you win the gold in?

I could take gold in running on no sleep (not that I want to mind you, but it is what my life seems to be).  With five kids, three dogs, two cats and my own crazy brain there is always something to keep me up late, wake me in the middle of the night, and wake me up early.

If you were able to change your first name, what would you pick? 

I would choose the name Liliana. In fact, I fell in love with that name when I heard it so much that I named my 3rd daughter Liliana.  She won’t trade though, darn her!

What one rule do you frequently disregard? 

The rule I probably break most often is the rule that says you should “read all the instructions” before using some product.

What do you never leave home without? 

I never leave home without a notebook of some sort or another. 

What concept or product has surprisingly never been invented?

Time travel or teleportation. It seems to be so common in movies and books and so desired, but still hasn’t happened. Drat!

What is the most interesting piece of trivia you can think of? 

The most interesting trivia related to books that I have heard:  The main library at Indiana University sinks over an inch every year because when it was built, engineers failed to take into account the weight of all the books that would occupy the building.

What movie deserves a sequel? 

The Princess Bride.

unnamedWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When I put it away for a few weeks or more, and then get it out to read it over, and I don’t want to make any changes.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until after my third child was born. I was a teacher, and I quit to be home with my children. Then I discovered that I didn’t like doing most of the “domestic” things like cooking, sewing, decorating, gardening, etc. But I did LOVE reading to my children. I set out at first to write teacher resource materials, but found I was drawn to writing books the most… and never looked back!

What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

I think everyone is creative. We just have to each find the area we are creative in, and not worry if it isn’t the same as another person’s.

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

I go somewhere to people watch or animal watch. Just one example: I spent a morning at a nearby lake feeding the geese with my children one day. Watching how the geese interacted, and seeing their distinct personalities inspired so many new ideas. They were hilarious!

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

First, learn everything you can about the craft, then be patient and very, very persistent. It takes years to get it right, and there is always something new to learn. Don’t give up!

Who do you consider a literary genius?

There are many literary geniuses, but some children’s authors I think take that title are Roald Dahl, Cynthia Rylant and Barbara Park.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I have always loved picture books and early chapter books as a child, as a teacher and especially as a mother. That’s why they are my favorite thing to write (and read)!

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Laura Krauss Melmed

AhugGoesAroundGet to know Laura…

Laura Krauss Melmed is the author of seventeen fiction and non-fiction picture books, including The Rainbabies, I Love You as Much, and New York, New York, the Big Apple from A to Z.  Her work has garnered many awards including the ALA Notable, Notable Children’s Book in the Field of Social Studies, Fiera de Bologna Graphics Prize for Children, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award and the National Jewish Book Award. Some of her titles have been translated into French, Mandarin, Japanese, Xhosa, and Afrikaans. She has been privileged to partner with such wonderful illustrators as Jim LaMarche, Betsy Lewin, Ed Young, Frane Lessac, Henri Sorensen, Jane Dyer, and others. Before We Met, Laura’s next picture book, will be published by Beach Lane. Laura is delighted to be working with Allyn Johnston. 

Laura loves kids, cats, dogs, flowers, cooking for friends and family, hiking, traveling and reading, reading, reading. A past president of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, she is a member of SCBWI. She is a literacy tutor and mentor. She enjoys meeting her audience at school presentations, offers writing workshops, and is available for author-in-residence programs. For more information about Laura, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

What is the weirdest thing about your relatives?

When I was a child my father’s family would gather most Sundays at my grandma’s apartment in Brooklyn.  While the eight cousins played, drew, jumped on the beds or otherwise ran wild, the grown-ups could be heard hollering at one another from the living room.  The weird thing is that they were never really fighting, just arguing about politics, books, astronomy, geography, or some other random topic.  They just loved this verbal sparring.  No one fought about anything serious or got into scenarios where they stopped talking to each other for years.  It was just how they interacted.  In a way, it was reassuring to us kids overhearing them, like baby geese being soothed by the honking of the gaggle. 

What item have you kept over the years for no good reason?

This might sound gross, but I still have the knot that fell off my youngest son’s umbilical cord.  He’s my third child and we weren’t planning on more, so I felt nostalgic.  Fast forward to last week:  He just received his doctorate in psychology (yay, Michael!); now he can analyze his mother’s strange behavior. 

If you talked in your sleep, what kinds of things would you say?

I would talk about about whatever dream I was having and record it so I could play it back to myself the next day. Or I would speak poetry. 

What is the most physically painful thing that has ever happened to you?

Intellectually I know that going through labor and childbirth three times (not counting my own birth, which probably hurt, but I don’t remember) was the most painful thing. But in this case the old cliché is really true, at least in my case.  The memory of pain evaporates in the joy of holding and gazing at the new love of your life. 

Fill in the blank.  If I had a pet robot _______.

She would go to the gym for me but the effects would still accrue to my body!  I guess this goes along with the question I didn’t answer about being lazy. 

What is the most childish thing about you?

My sense of wonder.  

What is the expression you normally have on your face?

As a child and young adult I was quite shy.  People would often say to me, for instance in the elevator at work, “Smile! Things can’t be that bad.”  I finally took the “hint” and tried my hardest to drop the poker face, quickly learning that a smile costs nothing yet reaps great rewards. 

What is the most annoying thing about computers?

That you might fall in love with an OS and then it could leave you (just kidding; I loved the movie Her.)

When is it essential to speak your mind?

When you see injustice. 

What keeps you up at night?

Worrying.  Trust me, I can always find something! 

If you could bring someone famous back from the grave, who would it be?  

I would bring back Abraham Lincoln to give a TED talk on the state of politics in this country. 

What was one of your most embarrassing moments?

At a recent local authors event, each author was called prior to the general signing session to give a short synopsis of his or her book to the assembled audience. Mounting the podium, I tripped and fell up the steps.  This had happened to Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars maybe a week before, but I didn’t have the excuse of wearing a long gown (instead I think it was due to the clunky moto boots that were supposed to make me look cool).  The point is, this klutzy move didn’t ruffle me at all, whereas years ago it probably would have left me mortified.  One of the perks of getting older is not giving two hoots! 

If you had a personalized license plate, what would it say?

“Shiviti,” a Hebrew word that means perceiving the world as an expression of divine oneness.   This is something I strive for in my meditation practice. 

laura-melmed-book-signingWriting Questions 

How do you know when a book is finished?

My published books still aren’t finished!  At some point you just have to let go of it. 

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing?  Have you ever questioned that decision?

I might have pursued a career in writing earlier had it not been for a professor in my sophomore year of college who gave me a D accompanied by mean comments on a paper about Tristram Shandy.  This was a crushing blow for an eighteen-year-old formerly always an A student in honors English.   After that I majored in Sociology and confined my creative writing to poems for special family occasions, etc.  I got an M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education from a wonderful program at Tulane University that was very kid-lit based, which nurtured my fascination with picture books.  I taught pre-school and kindergarten, and then got a government job in Washington where I wrote, but not creatively.  

One night while putting my son Jonathan to bed (not an easy endeavor on any evening), he, then and now a person of unique intellect, asked me, “What was the first song ever sung?”  My answer to his question, a poem I composed in my head as he at last drifted off to sleep, became my first picture book. The First Song Ever Sung, illustrated by Ed Young, is dedicated, of course, “to Jonathan, who asked the question.”  After that I continued my part time day job for many years, but knew that being an author was the real me and wrote and published many books. 

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity?  If so, how have you dealt with this?

The hardest thing for me is dealing with that naysaying self-editor trying to dam up the natural flow of my writing.  I know that this little devil sitting on my left shoulder (or squatting inside the left side of my brain) must be silenced until later when it’s time for the editing process to kick in, but it can be a battle to control that little demon.  I’ve used the technique of attending poetry or visual arts workshops to free up my right brain in an environment where getting published is not the goal for me. 

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

Drink tea (latest passion: black tea purchased on a recent, fascinating trip to Turkey).  Dance around the room to something upbeat, currently Pharrell Williams’ Happy.  I’d be all right with your sharing a cup of tea with me, but having anyone observe my solo dance party would be truly mortifying! 

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing.

Make friends with your children’s librarian.  Read the best of the genre you’ve chosen to write in.  Join SCBWI.  Go to workshops and conferences.  Get your work critiqued.  Network.  Avail yourself of the plethora of fabulous online resources, like the Author Turf website!

How would you define creativity?

I just received Chronicle’s catalog in the mail.   The cover shows the company’s eyeglass logo, with the motto, “See things differently.”  I think that says a lot. 

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Philip Roth, and Alice Munro, among many others.

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